Blues dominate Predators, inch closer to top spot in Central Division

By Lou Korac

That was impressive.

Mighty impressive.

What the Blues did to their rivals to the Southeast, the Nashville Predators, minus three of their top forwards (Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Alexander Steen), outshooting them 44-19 and suffocating a Nashville team that thrives off the off of transition and speed, the Blues were as dominant as they’ve been all season in a 2-0 win on Tuesday at Enterprise Center, their seventh straight win on home ice, which is the longest stretch since Dec. 28, 2001-Jan. 19, 2002.

Never mind that Jordan ‘Winnington’ continues his, what general manager Doug Armstrong called on Tuesday morning, Cinderella Story with a 19-save shutout, his fifth in the NHL in his 18th start, this Blues win, their 12th of the month to tie a franchise record for most wins in a month (tying April, 2013 at 12-3-0), this was a combined effort that everyone deserved to be a part of, and contributed to.

“We were good tonight right off the bat, hot start,” Binnington said. “A couple chances didn’t go our way, we didn’t get it home, but we stayed with it the whole game and finally in the end there, ‘Bozie’ put one home, so yeah, it was a good finish for us.”

Call it gratitude, call it appreciation, but when Armstrong decided that he wasn’t going to tinker with this lineup, one filled with first-year players that will find out soon enough what playoff hockey is all about and what competing for a Stanley Cup really feels like, the players seemed to have taken it to heart, and took it out on another top-tiered team like the Predators, who the Blues went 4-1-0 against, including three wins against them the past 18 days.

“You guys know where we was. At start of January was in last place,” said Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who assisted on Tyler Bozak’s goal in the third period to break a 0-0 tie. “We find a way altogether to get out of it. It think it shows confidence in us. Really excited what we’re building here and really excited to keep the same squad the rest of the year and we try to reach our goals.”

Binnington, who has five shutouts and is 15-2-1 this season, is the fourth goalie in NHL history to win in each of his first seven regular-season home starts. He joins Frank McCool of the Toronto Maple Leafs (8-0-0, 1944-45), Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens (8-0-0, 1970-71) and Wayne Thomas of the Canadiens from (7-0-0, 1972-73).

Binnington’s five shutouts are the most by a Blues rookie goalie and he became the second goalie in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44) to get five shutouts through his first 18 NHL starts.

And this one may have been the easiest of them all.

“It’s definitely nice. You want it down there (on the other end) and your team playing hard and playing for each other,” Binnington said. The bench is excited. You could feel it coming. I have a good seat for that.”

Binnington, who is giving mad props to The Cheshire Inn, where he’s staying, once again was his joking self with a straight face when asked if it will be another good night at the lodging spot.

“Yeah, the The Fox & Hounds (Tavern) too,” Binnington said of the libation spot inside the hotel.

For a little postgame meal?

“Yeah, need a little pop-in,” Binnington said.

Binnington has looked so calm, cool and collected in this run, but don’t ask him about the tension of the games.

“Do I look nervous,” Binnington asked.

When told no … “There’s your answer. … Just enjoy it. You don’t have to ask these questions.”

And there’s that.

Alex Pietrangelo had a goal and an assist, and Bozak scored for St. Louis (34-23-5), which is 13-1-1 in its past 15 games and , if you can believe this, four points behind the Winnipeg Jets for second and five behind Nashville for first in the division.

When the calender turned to 2019, who saw this coming?

Well, the Blues obviously did.

“Guys competed hard,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “You play Nashville, you’ve got to compete. They’re a competitive hockey team. Right from the drop of the puck, we looked dialed in right away, which is a good thing.”

Mixed into this run was the franchise-record 11-game winning streak.

“There was enough confidence here with the winning streak,” Tarasenko said. “It’s more about we try to chase (teams) in the standings.”

The only reason this game was hanging in the balance late was Nashville goalie Juuse Saros, who made 42 saves for the Predators (37-24-5) in the unsuccessful debut of Wayne Simmonds, who made his Predators debut after he was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for forward Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on Monday. He had two shots in 15:46 of ice time.

Mikael Granlund, who was acquired by the Predators in a trade with the Minnesota Wild for forward Kevin Fiala on Monday, did not play because of the birth of his child.

Bozak gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 12:35 of the third period, scoring five-hole on Saros from the right circle six seconds after a penalty to Ryan Johansen had expired.

“We worked hard getting pucks back that whole power play,” Bozak said. “Obviously ‘Vladi’ made a great play to me through the seam, I just tried to shoot it quick. I knew we had bodies at the net. I knew there was a chance I could score. I was hoping it goes in or there’s a rebound for someone else. Luckily it found a hole.”

The play was the continuation of what was solid zone time from a power-play that had Ryan Johansen in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Tarasenko was able to make a key play by keeping a P.K. Subban clearing attempt in the zone before he made a seam pass to Bozak, who beat Saros between the legs.

“It’s an accident,” Tarasenko said of the keep-in. “I try to hit the puck. It’s good when you have luck in this game, so it was kind of luck too. It was a big goal for us.

“Petro do a great job, putting guys in the lane, then just move it to me. Bozie keep good position, I get two guys on me, so Bozie was wide open and he shot.”

The Blues weren’t threatened much more but Binnington had to make a couple saves in the game himself. The Blues outshot the Predators 20-5 in the third.

“That was fun,” Bozak said. “Obviously, playing those guys, always a tough game, they’re a great team. We knew they were on a back-to-back so we wanted to get on them and get pucks deep and kind of wear them down. Their top four D play a lot of minutes. We wanted to get on those guys. I thought we did a really good job of getting pucks to the net, getting a lot of opportunities and limiting their chances.

“It shows the depth we have. I’ve said that from the start, the most important thing is your depth. There’s going to be injuries throughout a season no matter what, no matter what team you’re on. There’s always going to be guys that need to step in and fill roles and everyone’s been doing a really good job of that.”

What gave the Blues ample time to do things was their sustained zone time and ability to seemingly have the puck on a string and keep it away from the Nashville skaters.

Case in point, the fourth line of Mackenzie MacEachern, Ivan Barbashev, who arguably played his best game in the NHL, and Sammy Blais, who was assigned to San Antonio, flew into Denver and got back on a plane to St. Louis and was recalled on emergency conditions when Steen came down sick, were setting the tone throughout.

“Obviously I just want to wish fast recovery to the guys. We miss them there, but young guys came in and it was impressive,” Tarasenko said. “They’re not scared of Nashville. They have really good players, world class players. Our young guys just go out there and play them in the o-zone, try to get a body every time and get a lot of emotions and help our team win a lot.”

“They were effective,” Berube said. “They were physical. They really get on the other team’s defense, banging. They did a good job. I thought they had an outstanding game.

“He was excellent. To fly, and then fly back, it’s a little concerning with your legs and how you feel. I thought he was great tonight. Very happy with his game.”

Pietrangelo scored into an empty net on the power play at 19:56 to make it 2-0 after Subban was in the box for interfence on Oskar Sundqvist, who would have been able to skate a puck into an empty-net had he not been pulled down.

“I don’t think you can take anything more from this game than other games,” Berube said. “We’ve been competing hard and playing hard. We’re playing our game, night in and night out I think pretty good. We want to continue to do that. We got a lot of games and it’s tight. You gotta stay competitive and focused on the task at hand. We got Carolina (next), They’re a good team right now. They’re winning a lot of games. It’s gonna be a tough game.”

Photo courtesy of Scott Rovak/St. Louis Blues

POST-GAME INTERVIEW: Craig Berube

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